Recently a fellow in our Wednesday class asked, “Why do some people teach miraculous gifts have ceased?” Several others piped in with comments like, “Why would anyone try to limit God’s power?”
In our world today some will deny any miracle is possible either now or in history. Yet for others, miracles continue to occur perhaps even daily. Then there is a third group who deeply believes in God’s power to operate in miraculous ways, yet they suggest that miraculous gifts have ceased. Why do they believe this?
Their response to the question, “why do you desire to limit God’s power?” might come as a surprise. Most likely they would affirm they have no desire to limit how God works. In fact, they would probably claim that if God wants to do something miraculous he could. Instead of denying God’s power, they will insist that they are trying to faithfully understand what God has indicated through scripture about how he has chosen to work in our world.
It is noteworthy to realize that those who believe miracles do not occur today will probably assert God continues to work in powerful ways and to answer prayers! How can they cling to both ideas? What at first might appear to be a discrepancy simply reveals how people are using the term miracle with different definitions.
Some people use miracle in very broad ways. They talk about the miracle of birth, miracle of a new day, miracle that a cancer went into remission, and so forth. A prayer is answered. It is a miracle!
Those who do not believe God performs miracles today reserve the language of the miraculous for the instantaneous and dramatic evidence of God’s power such as Paul raising the dead, paralyzed people instantly walking, or the immediate capability to speak a foreign language. In their view, if God might choose to heal a disease through a variety of natural means or if he might provide a proclivity to learn languages, neither of these are miraculous. Neither is the birth of a baby, as marvelous, wonderful and complex as it is.
Stated a different way, in their perspective while God can work through people and processes in non-miraculous ways, a miracle involves God’s power enabling something to occur that is impossible through natural means. God can work through both, but only one is miraculous.
If an era of the miraculous has indeed ended, this would seem to fit a general observation. Within the biblical timeline of history we do not discover a continuous record of God performing miracles. Rather, the miraculous tends to clump around specific significant events such as:
- … when God created a people for himself and
- … when God helped his people through critical times as with Elijah and Elisha.
Thus when God called the nation of Israel into relationship with himself at Mount Sinai, this was preceded by vast demonstrations of God’s power prior to and following the covenant ceremony. He divided the Red Sea, caused Aaron’s rod to bud, provided water from a rock, caused their clothes to last for decades, etc.
In the same sort of way, prior to and then following Jesus’ covenantal death making possible the church’s existence we discover Jesus’ ministry, the apostle’s ministries as well as the Spirit pouring out amazing abilities upon the early church.
Yet when we look at the entire spectrum of biblical history, miracles tend to be rather rare. Hundreds of years can pass without any mention of a miracle. And then in a crisis situation, suddenly God does the unexpected such as three young men standing unscathed in Nebuchadnezzar’s blazing furnace.
With these intriguing thoughts in hand, what is it within scripture that has led some to conclude miraculous gifts ended with the apostles? More about this next week.